It's Our Generations
While the young players impressed with their individual abilities, their ensemble work was, if anything, even more impressive. The musicians interacted with an easy familiarity that belied their short time together, keeping eye contact, taking cues, improvising solos and generally looking like they were having a good time. They also conveyed their enthusiasm to the audiencesomething plenty of far more experienced jazz musicians often fail to do.
The selection of music was also impressively broad, keeping clear of the standard repertoire in favor of an eclectic mix of classics, more contemporary tunes and even one or two new compositions that emerged from the week's activities. Compositions by Jaco Pastorius, Steve Swallow, Wayne Shorter and Gwilym Simcock all featured in the concert. The set of tunes played by the first ensemble sums up this eclectic mix perfectly: Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder," Charles Mingus' "Better Git It In Your Soul" and Nick Drake's "River Man."
The National Jazz Archive
But how do the older generations stay connected to the younger when those older players are no longer on this Earth?
Jazz is now old enough for its earliest practitioners to be no more than distant memoriesfaded black and white photos and scratchy old 78s offering mere hints at their greatness. These past generations are still relevant, still with something to say to the contemporary scene. We just need a bit more help to listen to what they have to tell us. In Britain, the National Jazz Archive provides that help, chronicling the music's history through its collection of books, journals, photos and ephemera (although the sounds themselves are held in the National Sound Archive).
Earlier in 2011 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded a grant of £346,300around $560,000 USDto the NJA to help in the expansion of its work. The grant will be used for developments such as the creation of a "Story of British Jazz" website and the comprehensive cataloging of the NJA's holdings. The possibilities for scholars, historians, musicologists, musicians and fans alike are genuinely exciting.
The NYJC shows what can be done when enthusiastic and talented young people are given the chance to explore jazz in the company of superb musicians and teachers. But there is also much that music can do for other youngsters.
John Bowman, a musician and manager of the recording studios at The Stables, established Notivate ten years ago. Its main activity, Bowman explains, is a singer-songwriter program aimed at children aged 9 to 13 years. More recently, Bowman has developed a jazz element to the organization's work. "The jazz started life as a one day workshop. We got four musiciansJeff Clyne, Nick Weldon, Mark Lockheart and Trevor Tomkinsup to Northampton to run an improvisation day for young musicians who were already part of local jazz ensembles. There was a series of activities, followed by an evening performance. It was aimed as much at developing the participants' confidence as it was at bringing on their instrumental skills."
A year after the improvisation workshop, Bowman and Weldon ran a second day, targeted at specific young players from Northamptonshire's three jazz ensembles and ending, once again, with a performance. Soon after this Bowman began to work with a young local bassist, Loz Garrett (pictured right), in the band of singer and songwriter Martyna. The bassist is a recent graduate of the Trinity College of Music in London, and also works with Chris Eldred, winner of a 2011 Yamaha Jazz Scholarship. Garrett ran a workshop for Bowman as part of his final examination at Trinity and is now planning another workshop for later in 2011.
Bowman is clearly proud of the way in which Notivate is helping to develop the skills, and particularly the improvisational skills, of young players. He has plans for a DVD featuring Garrett, to be used as a resource for schools. He's is also taking jazz into local communities, giving the experience of live music to young people who might not otherwise have the chance to get involved. "We'll be doing performances in youth clubs, live gigsthere will be five initially, across the county. To be honest, the word 'jazz' might not even crop up. We just want to take a live quartet or quintet into these communities, play and improvise, and introduce them to that style of music." There are also plans, still at an early stage, for a "jazz youth club. Somewhere for kids to come and play, with a rhythm section, where kids can just come and enjoy themselves, have a jam, and not feel they're working towards a performance. It's a bit of an experiment."